William Makepeace Thackeray.
A contemporary of Dickens, and Vanity Fair being his masterpiece, Thackeray displays an equal though not as subtle wit to Dickens, with similar social commentary running through both authors’ works.
This is the tale of two women — one is pure & good, the typical timid & meek woman, the other (the more engaging Becky) is poor and struggles constantly toward fame and fortune by lying and Machiavellian schemes. A very long novel, but reads quickly due to the interesting characters. Even though Becky is rarely portrayed doing anything good – and when she does, it is almost always for selfish reasons – the author clearly enjoys her character as much as the reader does. I am always rooting for her to achieve the success she longs for.
Well, eventually, she does in a way, and even makes a generous gesture towards Amelia, whom she had much abused in the past. Happy ending, fun reading with some truly great moments along the way.
2005 update (this was originally written in 2000): Glad this classic has been made into a popular movie & created a new generation of readers for the book!